USA TODAY High School Sports has a weekly column on the college recruiting process. Here, you’ll find practical tips and real-world advice on becoming a better recruit to maximize your opportunities to play at the college level. Jason Smith is a former NCAA DIII athlete and college coach at all three division levels. Jason is just one of many former college and professional players, college coaches, and parents who are part of the Next College Student Athlete team. Their knowledge, experience, and dedication along with NCSA’s history of digital innovation, and long-standing relationship with the college coaching community have made NCSA the largest and most successful athletic recruiting network in the country.
When student-athletes think of Division I schools, they often picture full-ride athletic scholarships. Division III? Not so much. And for a reason—Division III programs simply can’t offer athletic scholarships.
However, don’t read that as “Division III can’t offer scholarships.” Because there is definitely money at the Division III level—and it may just cover all of your child’s tuition.
The facts behind Division III
NCAA DIII is the largest of the NCAA divisions. There are 442 Division III schools across 32 different states, most of which are in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions. Division III is designed to give student-athletes more time outside of sports so they can focus on academics. These programs are flexible in ways Division I and II tend not to be—student-athletes have more opportunities to study abroad, participate in internships and attend other school-related activities.
As a part of this structure, the NCAA prohibits Division III college coaches from awarding athletic scholarships. And as a result, many families tend to believe that valuable aid opportunities for student-athletes at this level don’t exist. But the fact is that the athletic department can still play a significant role in your child’s financial package.
READ MORE: What NCAA division is right for you?
How Division III athletes can get scholarships
It’s true that Division III schools can’t provide student-athletes with athletic scholarships—or at least they can’t label them that way. Instead, they leverage other types of aid student-athletes may qualify for, such as merit-based scholarships and grants. With Division III being mostly made up of small private schools, they tend to have these types of funds readily available.
Merit-based scholarships, for example, are awarded to student-athletes for their excellence in academics or leadership. Let’s say a Division III college coach is showing interest in your child, who happens to have a high GPA and competitive test scores. It’s not uncommon for the coach to work with the admissions office to offer your child a favorable scholarship package made of up merit-based scholarships. As long as the money isn’t for their athletic abilities, the coach is in the clear.
Or, maybe your family qualifies for a lot of need-based aid. In this case, the coach may make a scholarship offer that relies heavily on grants so that—unlike loans—your family isn’t required to pay them back. Even though this isn’t an athletic scholarship, for many families it can still be a very attractive offer.
So, while Division III doesn’t specifically dole out athletic scholarships, they absolutely can help student-athletes pay for their tuition—if not all—through merit-based scholarships and grants. This is an appealing option for student-athletes who are seeking out top academic programs and a balance between athletics and academics in their college experience.
Maximize your DIII opportunities
Grades always matter—just because your child is a top recruit doesn’t mean they’ll automatically be admitted into the university. And at the Division III level, outstanding academic performance can mean more money to cover tuition.
Think about it this way—being a well-rounded athlete who can make an academic impact at the university gives Division III coaches something to work with when contacting the admissions office. Encourage your child to volunteer, participate in clubs outside of sports and most importantly, focus on their schoolwork. The stronger their GPA and test scores, the more money can they earn to help cover tuition.
To fully understand your child’s scholarship opportunities, remember to ask the Division III college coach recruiting them what grants they offer and how they can qualify. And let the college coach know how much aid your family needs to pay for college.
You can also learn about cutting the costs around Division III here: How to Knock Down the Higher Cost of DIII Schools